Industry News January/February 2014 Issue 1

Novasentis Wins CES Award for Haptic Actuator

Novasentis, Inc. (formerly Strategic Polymers Sciences) recently won a 2014 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award in the Embedded Technologies category for its Electro-Mechanical Polymer (EMP) actuator and sensor technology.  The Novasentis polymer technology (described in this month’s Frontline Technology feature, “New Electro-Mechanical Polymer Actuator Technology for Better Interactivity”), is designed to provide mobile and wearable devices with so-called “co-located” vibrations, movement, morphing, and sound.  When a user touches a screen embedded with the charged polymer, an electrical current is generated that creates a range of different vibrations.  Novasentis claims its product is the world’s thinnest actuator.  Last fall, the company announced a Series B funding round of $8 million with new investors Samsung Venture Investment Corporation (Samsung Ventures) and Chengwei Capital.1


3M Introduces Three New Sensor Films

3M has announced the launch of three new sensor films that bring the company’s product line “from the back to the front of displays,” in the words of Erik Lood, Marketing Manager for 3M’s Electronic Solutions Division.  (3M’s focus has to date been more on optical films.)  The new films include an unpatterned indium tin oxide (ITO) film for high-volume touch-sensor films and a patterned silver nanowire film with conductors made from partner Cambrios’s silver nanowire ink and micropatterned by 3M on a polyester (PET) film substrate.  The third offering is a highly flexible metal-mesh material designed to enable curved and foldable touch-screen designs.

3M’s Advanced ITO Film is an etchable touch sensor aimed at panel manufacturers seeking excellent optical transparency and high conductivity at competitive prices.  The 3M Silver Nanowire Film is highly transparent and can support touch screens suitable for phones and tablets, as well as large-area applications such as signage and gaming.  Unlike ITO products, the flexible silver nanowire material can conform to angles and rounded surfaces.  The 3M Patterned Metal Mesh film offers high conductivity and transparency in an exceptionally flexible material, and its random mesh patterning creates very little moiré.  The ITO film became available in December 2013.  The silver nanowire and metal-mesh films are scheduled for Q1 2014 availability.


More 2014 CES Innovations Awards

Additional CES Innovations Awards winners with display components include Instabeat, a waterproof head-up monitor from the company of the same name (Fig. 1) and Tobii Technology’s EyeMobile.  Instabeat tracks, stores, and displays instant feedback of a wearer’s heart rate during a swim.

The EyeMobile is a lightweight accessory that enables eye-control capabilities on Windows 8 tablets, giving individuals with mobility challenges a hands-free way to enjoy tablet functionality.

Fig. 1:  The Instabeat was created by a sports-technology startup in Lebanon whose founder is a former professional swimmer.


Tactonic Introduces Prototype Pressure Sensing Touch Display

Tactonic Technologies, a maker of pressure-sensing multi-touch and pressure imaging sensor components, has demonstrated a new approach to providing touch for use with flexible displays using a flexible OLED display from the Flexible Display Center at ASU. This touch assembly stack has the sensor under the display rather than as a transparent top layer.

Benefits of the new technology, according to Tactonic, include no optical degradation of the display due to touch layers, lightweight durability and low power, operation via gloved or bare hands, operability under harsh conditions and broad temperature ranges, and no significant EMI issues.  The sensor is a mechanically interpolated pressure imaging grid, says Gerry Seidman, CEO of Tactonic Technologies, who adds, “Because of the mechanical interpolation, we can do very sparse sampling and still maintain high positional accuracy.”

Applications for the sensors are broad, says Seidman, and so far the company’s technology is in commercial use in a smartphone peripheral and also in some non-display automotive applications that will be revealed at CES. In the near future, Seidman expects to see the technology used with OLED, electrophoretic, and other flexible displays that would benefit from this type of sensor.


Foxconn Will Build Factory in Harrisburg, PA

Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwan-based company that makes Apple’s iPhone 5s, among other consumer electronics, is planning to spend $30 million on a manufacturing facility in Harrisburg, Pennsylvannia, according to a recent Bloomberg News report.2  The new facility will employ approximately 500 people.  To put that in perspective, note these statistics from a recent Wall Street Journal article: Foxconn currently employs 1 million workers in China and has at times operated as many as 100 production lines around the clock at its plant in Zhengzhou.  The company has approximately 300,000 workers at the Zhengzhou facility, which is dedicated to making the iPhone5s.3

According to the Bloomberg report, the Harrisburg plant is part of Foxconn’s strategy to move more manufacturing to the U.S. as demand increases for domestic products.  Bloomberg quoted Foxconn chairman Terry Gou as saying the company wants to be part of the manufacturing “renaissance” in the U.S.






– Jenny Donelan